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With a dead man in the coffin, Johanna, the madwoman, wandered through her kingdom

The coming together of the two royal children would provide material for a Hollywood romance.

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With a dead man in the coffin, Johanna, the madwoman, wandered through her kingdom

The coming together of the two royal children would provide material for a Hollywood romance. Actually, their marriage was big politics. Philip the Handsome, the only son of the Roman-German king and emperor Maximilian I and Maria, the heiress of Burgundy, and Joanna, daughter of the "Catholic kings" Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, were to seal the alliance between the Habsburgs and the Spaniards . The wedding was scheduled for October 1496 in Lier, in what is now Belgium.

But the two young people did not keep to the tact of reasons of state. When they met on a street in Lier before the wedding, both sparked immediately. The sensual desire is said to have been so strong that they forced a priest on the street to marry them on the spot, in order to then consummate the marriage at court in a frenzy of love. At least that's how folklore interpreted the looks that both exchanged during the official ceremony. And the bride's – tragic – story seemed to confirm the lore of an all-consuming love.

For their parents, the newlyweds were, above all, political capital. After conquering the Emirate of Granada and taking possession of America by their captain Christopher Columbus in 1492, Isabella and Ferdinand ruled an ever-growing empire that was the emperor's ideal partner in the fight against France. The pact was sealed with a double wedding. In addition to Philipp and Johanna, the Spanish heir to the throne, Johann, and Margarete, the emperor's daughter, also tied the knot.

It was thanks to several coincidences that Johanna of all people became heiress to the Spanish Empire on the day after the death of her mother Isabella on November 26, 1504. Both her brother Johann, his little son, her older sister Isabella and her son Miguel died. Her father Ferdinand claimed the regency. However, her husband Philip managed to persuade the estates of Castile to recognize Joan and his rights. But already in September 1506 Philipp died, so that Johanna became the sole ruler. If it hadn't been for her "madness".

Before her marriage, contemporary witnesses described the young Infanta as a delicate, reserved and sensitive person. She is said to have been very beautiful, in good health and apparently highly intelligent. In addition to her mother tongue, she spoke fluent Latin, Italian and German, and after her marriage she also learned French. She was musically gifted and did not shy away from corresponding with humanists such as Erasmus of Rotterdam.

The marriage with Philipp was – in contrast to the usual aristocratic connections – a love marriage and from Johanna's point of view it certainly was. Not only did their six children stand for this, but also the tokens of love with which she showered her husband, completely contrary to court protocol. But they soon took on pathological features, "because Philipp's hormone-related enthusiasm quickly evaporated," as historian Bart Van Loo explained of his frequent infidelities.

Johanna's scenes of jealousy became more and more violent. Yes, she tried to remove all potential rivals from the palace. Until September 1506. A severe pneumonia tied Philip to his bed. Johanna showered him with comfort and care, but after nine days he died, a full 28 years old. But she did not want to separate from her husband. For months she carried the coffin through Castile, repeatedly had the coffin opened to speak to him and lit truckloads of candles, twice nearly causing a catastrophic fire. Even at the grave in Granada she didn't want to part with him.

It was in this state that she gave birth to her youngest child, Catherine, in 1507. For her it was a last gift from her husband. Johanna kept her in a small room in her apartment and forbade any education. When her son Karl, who had grown up at the court of his aunt Margarete in the Netherlands, visited her in 1517 at her widow's residence in Tordesillas, his little sister made a neglected and backward impression; later he saved Catherine by marrying her off to the king of Portugal.

Formally, Joanna was still Queen of Spain, because the estates assembled in the Cortes had confirmed her rule. In the meantime, however, her depression had reached a magnitude that could serve as a sufficient argument for declaring her "insane" and thus unable to govern. Her father Ferdinand had taken over the regency after her husband's death. Now it was Charles who, as heir to Burgundy, the Habsburgs and the election as Roman-German king and emperor in 1519, was to rise to ruler of a world empire on which the sun never set.

Whether Johanna was really "insane" or whether she was supposed to be ousted from power for political and dynastic reasons with the appropriate diagnoses has not been finally clarified to this day. She has been said to have psychoses and schizophrenia, and for church circles her lax handling of questions of faith is said to have confirmed her insanity. Physically, she has certainly enjoyed good health. Only a scalding accident in her monastic prison in Santa Clara put an end to her life. She was 75 years old.

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